It’s that time of year again when our thoughts turn towards dark winter nights and a few months away from boating. But it doesn’t need to be this way, according to Paul Glatzel …
For me, the autumn and winter have always given me some of my best boating. In addition to getting out afloat on some stunning days, it’s a great time to develop your skills and get ready for the next season. And remember that using your boat can make getting out on the water cheaper too!
Whether getting afloat in your boat, and the area you typically boat in, is a practical option over the winter months of course varies according to your situation, but if you can access your boat and get out there, then do try to do so. The weather on some winter days can be amazing: if there is no wind, the combination of flat seas, maybe relaxed speed limits, few boats around and a couple of hours wrapped up warm going for a blast can be a really special experience.
Obviously it’s likely to be a fair bit quieter out on the water, so you need to ensure that before you head out, your boat is running well. Consider going out alongside another boat, and think about joining an organisation such as Sea Start if they operate in your area. One of the great things about using your boat through the winter is that there’s nothing better to keep it running nicely than using it. Regular use is likely to reduce issues such as seized parts, thereby lowering the chances of needing to spend money at the start of the new season to fix some of these issues. So if you need any other justification to get afloat, you can argue that it can reduce maintenance bills and also spreads the overall cost of your boating across more trips. You save money – well, sort of!
Inevitably winter can be a great time for some of your own maintenance too. Spend some time really deep cleaning and tidying your craft. I tend to get behind the console, use a WD-40-type spray on the electrics, grease up moving parts, get salt out of hinges, and sort through and clean all of the gear I carry. Life jackets probably need a service (take them to a chandlers), check expiry dates on flares and other items, and make sure everything has its place and is stowed well.
So what else can you do to maintain or enhance your boating over the winter? The obvious answer is to do some training and perhaps some planning for the next season afloat.
With training you have three choices. Doing some theory courses is a great way to develop your skills and knowledge. When I first started I used the winter to attend some training, like the RYA First Aid and Sea Survival courses (one day each). The benefits of doing first aid are pretty obvious, while the Sea Survival course is a great way to learn what it’s really like to wear a life jacket in the water, to properly understand when and how to deploy flares, and to find out how to use a life raft.
The VHF Radio course is essential and it’s one of those that you can do online or in the classroom. Courses like Powerboat Level 2 are great at developing a really base level of theory knowledge, but if you want to increase your knowledge, the Essential Navigation & Theory course (online, two days) and even better the Day Skipper Theory (online, five days) are great options. If you want to get afloat, the intermediate powerboat course is a brilliant way to learn how to go further afield, while if you are at the right level, the advanced course may be an option. If you have your own boat, think about getting out and doing some close-quarters practice with an instructor on board. Try initially with just a little wind, and then maybe with a bit more to make it more challenging.
Keep an eye out over the winter too for evening Zoom sessions from training schools. One of the upsides of COVID was the introduction of new methods of delivering training, with free or cheap evening sessions being a great way to learn.
Over the winter I’ve always loved the time spent planning trips for when the weather warms up. Apps like Navionics make this easy and enjoyable without costing a lot of money. For about £40 you can get the app with charts for the whole of the UK and Ireland and a fair bit of northern Europe. For much the same cost, you can get the charts of the Med. You can spend time exploring virtually your area and those further afield and see where you want to head off to.
As with many choices in life, whether the winter is a great boating time or a bit of a boating ‘black hole’ is very much up to you. But my advice would be to try to get afloat and make the most of the opportunities winter brings.
Keep safe and have a great time afloat!
Check out PBR TV YouTube channel where Paul Glatzel and Tom Montgomery-Swan discuss all aspects of getting afloat. The RYA Powerboat Handbook and the RYA Advanced Powerboat Handbook are available in print or as e-books from the RYA shop at rya.org.uk/shop.